By: Nate Jervey
Assistant Sports Information Director
How ironic is it that Butler University, this year’s Cinderella of March Madness (I get that Michigan State is also a #5 seed, but who really thought that Butler of all schools would be in the Final Four) plays its home games in none other than Hinkle Fieldhouse. For those of you that don’t know, Hinkle Fieldhouse was the setting for the climactic scene in one of the most iconic sports movies of all time — Hoosiers. The same Hoosiers movie that told the true story of little Hickory High School and its improbable, near impossible run to the Indiana State High School Championship in 1954 and here we are in 2010 and Butler has a chance to do something similar.
I have had the luxury of visiting Hinkle Fieldhouse, which is really not much more than a pole barn to a layperson looking at the outside of it. But this is the pole barn where Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper led a spunky group of farm boys from Hickory High School to a two-point victory over Muncie Central some 56 years ago. Actually, the movie was made in 1986, which may have been before Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens was born (I mean seriously, have you seen this guy?).
Now, Butler may not be the largest of underdogs as they were ranked 10th in the county entering the season. The Bulldogs ran through the Horizon League (not exactly the Big East but…) undefeated and they currently own the longest winning streak in the country. Many of these stats would seem to bode well for a team making a Final Four appearance, but many (myself included) are not giving the Bulldogs much of a chance in Indianapolis.
Butler plays in the Horizon League where it beats up on the likes of Youngstown State and Wright State. Pretty sure the I.M. team that I play on could go .500 or better against them, so as far as the undefeated conference season and winning streak are concerned, I am not impressed.
Can you name three different players for Butler? Go ahead. How many did you get? One? Two? My point exactly. When was the last time that a team won National Championship with fewer than three recognizable names? I, for one, can’t seem to recall one, so that would also seem to not bode well for the Bulldogs.
The 12-year old doppelganger Brad Stevens and his bunch are making the school’s first trip to the Final Four where they are set to face off against, arguably, one of the most accomplished NCAA coaches of the last 20-30 years. Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo has his team in the Final Four for the second year in a row and for the sixth time in the last 12 years. I know that the Spartans don’t have their best player as Kalin Lucas is done for the season with a torn achilles tendon, but if there is a single coach in the country that I don’t want to face in March, its none other than Tom Izzo. On this point, I just don’t think that Stevens and his crew are up to it, despite being favored heading into the weekend.
So Butler’s winning streak and record mean little to me, it has MAYBE one household name on its roster and it will be taking on the Dean of this season’s Final Four (sorry Coach K). All of these things combined and I just don’t see it happening for the Bulldogs and their fans. Butler’s home gym may have been the site for a penultimate clash between spunky underdog and confident heavyweight in a Hollywood movie, but this is not Hollywood and I just don’t see the Bulldogs being able to pull off a Hickory-like upset in Indianapolis.
So if I don’t like Butler to win it, who do I like? Well, I think that Duke survives as rugged game against West Virginia and takes down MSU in the title game to break the hearts of Spartans fans for the second time in as many years.
The tournament up until this point has been one of the best that I can recall. Upsets galore, great finishes, great individual performances and plenty of interesting stories that CBS can spotlight in one of those dimly-lit pieces with Gus Johnson or Jim Nantz doing a voice-over telling us of the trials and tribulations of a certain coach, team, player. It has been a lot of fun to watch and I am looking forward to this weekend’s final three games. Though I would have preferred to watch Kansas vs. Kansas State, but oh well.